Organization site - GIFT Program
Issue: 2/20/01

Crash of CommAir Flight 4083

The Crash of CommAir Flight 4083
How to join a journalism and public relations course by using a simulation

Patricia Radin, Ph.D.
California State University—Hayward

The news conference is a source of curiosity, excitement, and motivation for beginning media students. When they see snippets of these events on TV, it all seems so glamorous–yet so competitive and mercilessly public if someone makes a slip. The reality, of course, is that it takes a lot of hard work and planning on both sides.

A live news conference exercise can be quite realistic. It is nicely bounded by a short time frame, a single theme, and the necessity for all the "reporters" and "PR people" to be in the same place at once. So, if the PR and journalism teachers can find an overlapping class period, they can engineer a simulation with plenty of surprises and challenges.

A simulated news conference, bringing together trained PR and journalism students, rewards good preparation and well-honed skills–and helps students to see why weak skills are a serious disadvantage. Long-term benefits include greater motivation and an experiential appreciation of just how their education will be applied when they are on the job.

A plane crash scenario was chosen because among possible crisis PR scenarios, it is familiar–journalism students immediately know how many good angles to pursue–and non-technical. In addition, a plane crash always involves several different agencies, providing for multiple PR roles.


Week 1
Journalism and PR teacher (both veterans of hundreds of news conferences) consult about specific goals for the exercise. Both classes should experience the tension, yet complementary objectives that would be evidenced in real life. Reporters should have to "dig" for buried details, accurately report facts and identify the lead and high-news-value details. PR people should anticipate reporters' needs, convey specific crisis messages, maintain a helpful attitude, be knowledgeable, and plan the event for maximum control.

Week 2
Week 3
Week 4
Teachers were delighted, resolved to do it again.